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Experts cover today’s key dairy labor issues and offer fool-proof techniques to optimize employee performance, sat­isfaction and longevity.

What’s In Your Job Description?

Mar 02, 2012

As an owner/manager, put a title on your job and take time to list the necessary tasks on the dairy that only you can perform. This may involve making a significant attitude change in your thinking.

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension
It is becoming more common for dairy farms to develop and use job descriptions for their employees.   Owner/managers should have a job description as well, and there are differences in what should be in that job description.
The first item should be putting a title on your job and getting key elements included in the description. For many dairy operators, this may involve making a significant attitude change in their thinking. Most consider themselves ‘farmers’; and historically, farmers think of themselves as "do-ers." Farmers do things. The change needs to include the idea that farmers also manage.
Most dairy farmers are in the business because they like cows. There is another important aspect that needs to move up the priority ladder, though, and that is managing the business. A manager is responsible for the health of the business and for generating wealth to sustain the business. Those management tasks cannot afford to be put off to the end of the day, or when time happens to come along. Management time needs to be given a high priority and become part of the work routine. 
Dairy farms today, large and small, have a significant investment in cattle and facilities. They also have a tremendous production capacity in the value of milk and beef that can be produced in a year. Managing that production facility cannot be done by the "seat of your pants" anymore. Management needs to be a deliberate part of the owner/manager’s daily routine.
The trouble comes when the owner thinks he or she has to spend the entire day doing physical work on the farm to show value to the farm. At a New Zealand South Island Dairy Event (SIDE), Owen Grieg, operations manager for Grieg Farming Ltd., made the following statement, "Not feeling guilty when you are not doing physical farm work is a hard skill to learn."
Dairy owner/managers need to imbed in their minds the idea that management tasks are important to the health and wealth of the farm. They are as important as physical work. If sufficient quality time is not devoted to management, decisions are more likely made because they are quick, not because they are well thought out and the right decisions.
The other people involved in the farm business also need to realize the value of the right person having time to manage. If others on the farm do not see the value of the manager spending time maintaining and analyzing records, visiting with consultants, or attending industry seminars, they may become critical of the manager, who appears in their minds to be slacking off and not holding up his or her end of the business.   
This brings us back to the topic of job descriptions. As an owner/manager, take time to list the necessary tasks on the farm that only you can perform because you are the owner/manager. Consider such tasks as working with lenders, marketing, purchasing, dealing with regulatory agencies, planning for routine maintenance as well as major improvements or expansions, visiting with nutritionists and veterinarians for health management, hiring employees, staff meetings (family or hired labor), performance evaluations, attending seminars and workshops to enhance your skills, train other staff, and endless other tasks that maybe specific to your farm. Larger farms may distribute some of the duties among other partners or even key employees.  
All of those tasks are important to the success of a dairy farm, and not one of them relates directly to working with a cow. That is not to say owner/managers shouldn’t work with the cattle, but it points out there are many important tasks that need to be done to support the farm having cattle.
Once you have completed that management list for your job description, share it with others on the farm. They need to know the important tasks you perform for the farm, even when they don’t see you in the barn working side by side with them.   
If you look at the list and think, "I don’t have time for all that," maybe you need to look at the workload on your farm and determine how to better balance the load and the labor supply. Hiring labor is never an easy decision, but it might be a good investment, freeing up the owner/manager to do a better job of managing. The gains on the farm by devoting adequate and quality time to management may well pay more than the cost of the hired labor. 
What’s in your job description?  Take a look. Update it. Then follow it to make your dairy business more successful.
Chuck Schwartau has been with the University of Minnesota Extension Service for 31 years. As part of the Extension Dairy Team, he focuses on workforce development and management, dairy business organization and risk management. Contact him at or (507) 536-6301.
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